The Seven Words You Can’t Say . . . in Marketing

Years ago comedian George Carlin recorded a skit featuring seven words you can’t say on television. (Use your imagination and I’m sure you can think of a few of these.)

This got me thinking; the more things change, the more they stay the same. For proof, the Carlin routine was recorded a long time ago—I bought the vinyl album at a record store—but the same words are still taboo on network television . . . for good reason.

When it comes to marketing, the mediums may be changing—regular media is being replaced by social media—but there’s still words that work (and many more that won’t) when trying to get our message across. In this article we will examine the words we want to stay away from when telling others about our associations (and the ones to use) in all forms of communication.

WORDS NOT TO USE #1 and #2: “I” and “Me”

It’s always about “them” (and “we” and “us”) because others don’t care about you or me. Sad, but true. They are (not-so-secretly) wondering how what we offer helps them—so connect the dots. Tell them what you do if you must, but better yet tell them what you do for them. People don’t care how much we know until we show how much we care about them.

There is another reason to shift the focus away from yourself and the reason is it’s easier to create marketing materials when it’s not about ourself. It’s also better when we switch from a sales and promotion person to a trusted friend, a teacher, and a person who cares. We’re here to help them and if what we offer doesn’t help someone else reach their goals then there is something inherently wrong with the offer.

ACTIVITY: Go through old e-mails, blog entries, newsletters, announcements, flyers and count and then convert as many “I” and “Me” references to “Us”, “We”, and “You”.

WORDS NOT TO USE #3 and #4: “Later” or “Whatever”

If you procrastinate raise your hand. Everyone should have their hands held high because we all do it. If we tell someone to take their time, they will. To put it another way, we need to light a fire under others to get them to do anything. We can use the carrot (sign up now and save) or the stick (this is a limited time offer and this promotion ends today) but we must make sure to tell them what to do and give them a good reason to do it . . . now. Later usually means never. (Think: Coupons with an expiration date and those without. Now guess which ones work better.)

“Whatever” is a word used by teens when we ask them to do something they don’t want to do—and it’s even used when they do want to do it. In marketing it isn’t really the word “whatever” we should worry about, it’s what the word in implies . . . indifference. We MUST be clear about what the next step is, give them a good reason to take it, and make it as easy as possible to do so because the easier something is to do the more likely they will do it. Don’t assume they know what to do, assume they don’t and tell them. Better yet, show them.

ACTIVITY: Be the ball. We should fill out our own forms. Sign up for our next conference. View our website as if we know nothing and have the attention span of a toddler. Then, make every aspect of what we use to promote ourselves simple and user-friendly. For an example, visit the Apple website—and to prove my point about how to make things easier, here is the link.

WORDS NOT TO USE #5 and #6: “Never” and “Nothing”

As is in, “This has never been done before, and there is nothing else like it.” Yikes! When we say something has never been done before it sets off all kinds of alarms. Why would they want to be the first to try something unproven. If we use testimonials with the real names of people respected in our industry others will be less skeptical. If we use metaphors others can relate to like; “Our customer service like Nordstrom” or “We are the Apple of our industry,” others will quickly “get it” because they know what we mean by association.

When I say “Just do it”, “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman”, and “Let your fingers do the walking” what do you think of? Oh, stop it. These are the slogans for Nike, Secret, and the Yellow Pages. If we have a catchy way to convey what we do, we can quickly tell others what makes us better, different, and special. This is not a mission statement, but a way to summarize our services so others can spread the message via word of mouth (Read: Social Media).

ACTIVITY: If we can identify which leading company we are most like we may get some clues about what has worked for them and how we can position ourselves. Then we can create a one-sentence statement that conveys our unique message.

WORD NOT TO USE #7: “That”

I know, the word “that” is used all the time. “That” said, it is one of several filler words. We need to get to the point and cut to the chase because people are busy and overwhelmed. The word “that” isn’t a bad word, it’s just an overused word when none is needed.

With Twitter we now respond to the question, “How are you?” with a single “Aight” instead of saying “I’m all right.” It’s a sign of the times—tell me what I need to know and do it in under 140 characters or I will lose interest or worse, ignore you.

When we are selling something (and when are we not doing that?) we should grab our readers with a clever and concise headline. “Got Milk?” or “Think Different” (Apple) are examples of saying more with less. The first sentence of anything needs to be attention grabbing, pique their interest, and make them want to know more. To do this we must “Reach out and touch someone” by pointing out a problem they have (and then offer a solution), ask a question (that starts them thinking and engages them), or state a startling fact (that scares them so much the must read on).

ACTIVITY: Write a first draft without worrying about grammar or grandiose words. Then cut, cut, cut. Now, make sure you lead with your best lines (headlines and the first sentence or three.) Finally, read it aloud. This helps us make our writing more conversational and flush out the filler words. Another tip is to write in an active voice and replace phrases like “It felt good” with “It feels good” or subbing “It’s about winning” for “We want to win.”

The Seven Words You Can’t Say . . . in Marketing

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